Stop crying and speak your mind

the diary room in Big Brother is the model for today's effective, emotional form of communication. If you are troubled, go to someone in power, tell them how upset you are, and have a cry. This is behaviour from the infant playground, where, if they couldn't get their own way, or felt threatened, the "cry babies" ran to teacher. Most of us will have experienced the supply teacher at school who went to the head in tears because of pupil behaviour. These child and adult cry babies were rare. Now, because of the infantilisation of adult life, everybody seems to be a cry baby.

Big Brother provides us with a clue as to why things have changed. After Jade Goody's so-called racist rants in the last series, most of the contestants whined that they "didn't like confrontation".

The "No Confrontation" motto should be on every FE prospectus as the whining is widespread, but it has little to do with a response to the thoughtlessness and aggression exhibited by the likes of Ms Goody. It just means that in this hypersensitive world you can't put across any ideas in a firm way, because any view held with conviction is seen as confrontational.

Try to challenge the new FE "leaders" and, as one lecturer in a London college recently found out, they run crying to the principal.

When was the last time anyone participated in a real staff debate in an FE college? All that is allowed is participation in "consultations" in which college management ignore what is said. If anyone dared put an alternative view across, they would be considered "difficult" rather than challenging and critical and would have their body language mentioned as a sign of their emotional state.

The people we really mustn't upset, of course, are the students who also hate confrontation, particularly when lecturers try to persuade them of some social or intellectual viewpoint. Their cry is usually, "Why should I believe what you say?" The answer is, as we have to keep reminding ourselves, that lecturers know a thing or two, and I used to think getting your knowledge across was what lecturing was all about, but to the PC brigade it is "soft bullying".

Evidence that society is less supportive of civil liberties comes from the 2007 British Social Attitudes Survey, in which 64 per cent of people backed the right "not to be exposed to offensive views" against 54 per cent who supported the right to "say what you think". This is a depressing legacy of Tony Blair's decade of government. Even Gordon Brown promises to be a listening and learning PM rather than, presumably, a lecturing and leading one.

Keeping quiet and behaving like a cry baby are poor substitutes for speaking your mind, even if speaking out upsets people. One reason for this is that it leaves college and political leaders in unchallenged control of our lives. More importantly, if we don't speak our minds, eventually we won't have any minds worth speaking of.

Dennis Hayes is head of the Centre for Professional Learning at Canterbury Christ Church University

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